EBMUD Wastewater Treatment Plant

IMG_0122.JPGVisiting the EBMUD Wastewater Treatment Plant near Emeryville was a a fascinating experience.  (Thank you EBMUD for helping train the next generation of environmental lawyers!)  The facility services about 750,000 residents in the Berkeley Oakland area and sits right in the middle of the interchange of I-580, I-80, and the approach to the Oakland Bay Bridge Toll Plaza. The tour took us through the entire facility, including the on-site distillation plant that produces oxygen to help speed up decomposition of the sewage, the intake of the wastewater into the treatment plant, the 8 settling tanks, and the biosolid digesters that decompose the remaining sludge. 

Among the interesting features of the facility – it is a net-zero energy user of PG&E power, oftentimes feeding electricity back into the grid!  That is the result of the plant’s collection of methane gas produced by the sewage sludge digesters.  The methane is fed into several diesel turbines and a gas turbine that can generate enough power to run the entire plant. So, not only does the facilitate reduce the GHG emission contribution to climate change (as measured on a carbon equivalent basis) but it actually eliminates (mostly) the need for electric power generated elsewhere (by the PG&E) to run the plant! 

We also saw the intake pump house of the plant, a place where large objects are screened out to protect the pumps from damage.  What kind of large objects?:  pieces of lumber, cable, and lots of debris caught on those items. Plant workers even discovered an entire motorcycle caught in the screen once! They speculate that somebody must have opened up a manhole and dropped it into the sewer instead of bringing to the landfill.  [The screens, by the way, are essentially grates with a 5-6 inch gap spaces, so an object would have to be pretty large to get stuck.] The intake system is also where a lot of other debris ends up getting removed.  Among the top items (maybe the top item) to be removed from wastewater – “flushable” wipes.  This has been reported in various media.  “Flushable” wipes can be flushed into the sewer, but they do not decompose and simply get collected in the screening systems of wastewater treatment plants.  What’s worse is that they not only increase the amount of debris that treatment plants have to remove before the wastewater can be treated, but because of the nature of the wipes (essentially cloth rags), they catch on or collect other debris, creating larger debris, such as the legendary “fatbergs” that have been reported about in recent years.  

IMG_0155 (2)There was a particularly interesting machine that visibly helped settle the solids from the wastewater stream.  The end result of the treatment process was a black biosolid that could be handled and had the consistency of clay or dough — in wastewater engineering parlance, a “cake.”  The most disturbing  aspect of our tour were probably the common usage of food and cooking terminology, invoking images that made some of us queasy:  “wet weather primary sludge thickeners” (don’t remember this one at Thanksgiving when making turkey gravy), the biosolids cake, and even a “juicer” used for the high-COD wastes (chemical oxygen demand, wastes that have a high content of organic materials, from example wastes from slaughter houses or wineries) brought in by truck and designed to separate the waste liquid from the solid materials . . . yum.  Yet, in spite of these metaphors and the images they evoked, we still managed to have lunch afterwards.

A final bit of trivia about the plant. It provides recycled water!  I did not get a chance to ask how pure the water is, but in its current form it is  usable for irrigation, toilet flushes, and industrial cooling.  Sufficient purification can actually make recycled water suitable for human consumption and for specialized industrial processes, such as semiconductor manufacturing.  Unfortunately, significant psychological barriers remain to getting people to drink such water (“toilet to tap”).  I learned about the same issue in Singapore, when I took students to Singapore’s NEWater recycled water facility last year.  The other challenge of greater recycled water utilization is the supply infrastructure – since recycled water needs to be kept separate from traditional potable water, a separate system would need to be constructed (though that would be unnecessary if recycled water were pure enough to be mixed with other potable water).


One other tidbit – if this information about wastewater treatment has (bad food pun coming) whetted your appetite for more information about sewage issues, I found episode 1 of the new Netflix documentary series “Inside Bill’s Brain” to be interesting.  It is all about his project of addressing childhood mortality linked to contaminated water, which is in turn directly linked to the challenge of managing the sanitation needs of human populations.  (Of course, the sanitation-public health connection is not new to people who work on environmental and/or human development issues in other parts of the world. But it was nice to see how somebody with lots of money was able to leverage that wealth to change the economic calculus of the marketplace and to help overcome the barriers to finding new solution for these issues.)  Kudos to Bill on that.


Santa Clara University’s New Initiative on “Environmental Justice and the Common Good”


[edit 10-9-2019] I should have added this picture of the five of us who are leading this initiative previously.


Sea Otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I took my students for a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey.  (Thank you Monterey Bay Aquarium for supporting the education of the next generation of environmental lawyers!)  The Aquarium has amazing exhibits, remarkably well-curated, educational for visitors, and just an overall great effort in engaging the public ages 1 to 99 on marine and other environmental issues.

In past visits with students to the Aquarium, we used the occasion to read and learn about marine fisheries management issues, such as a tuna and shark conservation (which can be seen in the Aquarium’s giant tank simulating the open ocean).  This year, we decided to focus on the Southern Sea Otter, a cute and cuddly mammal of the weasel family that will make any person without a heart of stone go “oooh” and “awww.”


Apart from making a great exhibit and drawing people into marine mammal protection issues, sea otters are also listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Several centuries, prior to the advent of Europeans on the West Coast, several hundred thousand of them could be found there.  Now, they number only in the low thousands.  Over-hunting drastically reduced their numbers, the same trend that affected the numbers of other marine mammals such as seals and whales. The problem was the prototypical Tragedy of the Commons issue – unsustainable levels of seal and whale hunting arising out of the fur trade because they were found in the environmental commons and thus not subject to protections against over-exploitation.  Because the stocks of seals and whales were rapidly depleted as a result, the major countries involved in these industries concluded the 1911 Fur Seal Treaty, which regulated the hunting of seals in the North Pacific (and included protections for sea otters) as well as the 1931 Geneva Convention on Regulation of Whaling.  (The 1931 Convention was a precursor to the 1946 International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, which continues to govern whaling today.)  Even though hunting of whales, seals, and sea otters is generally prohibited nowadays, habitat loss and other environmental influences mean that sea otters will never again be seen in the numbers of several centuries ago.

One marine mammal species that is also protected under the MMPA is the polar bear.  Polar bears will be particularly affected by habitat loss attributable to global climate change.   Since they have evolutionarily adapted to hunting seals on the polar sea ice , the disappearance of sea ice due during the summer months will mean that they will not be able to hunt for food that way and result in their inevitable extinction as a species.  Thus goes one more sad consequence of global warming.


The day was beautiful though.  There is one further field trip in store for my students. On Saturday, October 5, we are off to visit the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s Wastewater Treatment Plant near Emeryville.  If the Aquarium was the quintessential “green” side of environmental law, the wastewater treatment plant will be the proverbial “brown” side .  Hopefully, the smells will not traumatize my students too much.

Our New Casebook: “Comparative and Global Environmental Law and Policy,” Wolters Kluwer (2019)

I am really pleased to share the news that our law casebook “Comparative and Global Environmental Law and Policy,” co-authored with Anastasia Telesetsky (University of Idaho Law School), Lin Harmon-Walker (George Washington University Law School), and Robert Percival (University of Maryland Law School), is now officially available from Wolters Kluwer (ISBN: 9780735577299).


Here’s the blurb from our book’s back-cover:

“Over the past several decades, globalization has become central to the field of environmental law.  The most pressing contemporary environmental challenges are now transboundary and global in scope, with international environmental treaties and institutions dominating among the most visible solutions.  Even more important, however, has been the rapid spread and evolution of environmental law norms and policies in national systems across the world.  For example, these trends have led to the adoption of environmental impact assessment as a legal requirement by almost all countries, the rise of public interest litigation and green courts as key environmental governance mechanisms, and adoption of laws and regulatory mechanisms to address climate change and other environmental problems across the world.

Written by leading scholars and experts with extensive practice and teaching experience in the field, Comparative and Global Environmental Law and Policy offers a student-friendly approach to the study of a rapidly evolving and important area of law.  Its multi-jurisdictional selection of judicial opinions and legal materials introduces students to the worldwide reach of environmental law.  Through its substance, the book familiarizes students not only with governing and emerging legal principles but also demonstrates how legal norms are applied to specific issues and contexts, illustrating how law-on-the-books becomes law-in-action.”

Position: Trial Attorney, US Dept. of Justice, Environment Division, Wildlife and Marine Resources Section, Washington, DC (Deadline: 10/4/2019)

2 open position for experienced attorneys.


Here’s a write-up about the Wildlife Section:

“WMRS primarily handles civil defensive litigation under federal wildlife laws and laws concerning the protection of marine fish and mammals, including the Endangered Species Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Section represents a broad range of federal regulatory and resource management agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Section’s cases involve challenges to rulemakings about which species should be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, agency decisions about the way in which protected species are considered when federal agencies carry out their missions, and other litigation related to the balance between species protection and resource development in federal agency decision-making. The work of the Section is varied and often affords attorneys the opportunity to be involved in some of the most complex and important cases currently arising in this area of the law. This is not a criminal prosecution position.

WMRS seeks to hire and cultivate talented trial attorneys and provides its lawyers with regular and meaningful court experience in a variety of jurisdictions on a broad range of issues. Attorneys in the Section are assigned a docket of multiple cases and are given first-chair responsibility for all aspects of their cases including drafting procedural and dispositive motions, handling written and oral discovery when needed, conducting settlement negotiations, defending emergency motions, including examination of witnesses when necessary, and presenting oral argument. Attorneys in the Section also counsel client agencies on their compliance with statutes under the Section’s jurisdiction. The cases handled by WMRS require attorneys to achieve intellectual command of complicated facts, scientific principles, and legal issues, often rapidly.”

The Annual molting of the Chicken

As many know, Citizen Yang is also Farmer Yang.  Farmer Yang has a backyard fruit orchard as well as a flock of eleven egg-laying hens.  Prior to keeping chicken, Farmer Yang did not know that chicken lose all of their feathers on an annual basis, usually in the fall. One of our older hens, Opera, is now going through the molting process. She looks as if she was just through a bad fight. But all is normal. Molting chicken do seem to get shyer and they drop in the flock’s pecking order.  Ordinarily, Opera is a fairly dominant hen; but during this time of the year, it seems that other hens are picking on  her.  The last image is from the previous year, showing her in the full glory of her regular plumage.

Palm Oil Plantations and the Environment in Southeast Asia

Last month, I took a road trip from Penang, Malaysia to the capital Kuala Lumpur to attend the annual IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium (August 6-9, 2019).  Apart from seeing some scenic tourist spots, such as Melakka which is one of the original places where the Dutch and the British had their colonial headquarters prior to Malaysia’s independence, the trip was relatively uneventful. We did stop at various places to check out the sights or special foods.   And the main north-south freeway route was a modern and easy drive, not much unlike a freeway drive in the US.

What I did find remarkable, however, was the visible vegetation, which was pretty much the same through most of the four hours – miles and miles of palm plantations, sometimes as far as the eye could see beyond the freeway.  Environmental concern about palm oil plantations have steadily grown over the years.  These plantations destroy enormous swaths of native forest and replace naturally occurring biologically diverse ecosystems with a monoculture in order to supply the worlds hunger for palm oil.  Over the past few decades, palm oil demand and production has risen rapidly because some of its qualities make it a great additive or base for many foods and products.  Take a look at the ingredient labels of your favorite foods, and you may discover it listed.

In Indonesia, especially, palm oil plantation have presented especially serious problems because the methods by which forest lands have been cleared in order to make way for palm oil plantations has given rise to many serious forest fires, including igniting some of the peat in the soil, that have been incredibly difficult to extinguish.  Interestingly, the result of some of these fires have been serious transboundary air pollution problems that have affected also Singapore.

I have been following the transboundary air pollution issue with special interest because it’s given rise to a Singaporean statute, The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act of 2014 (THPA).  The title and issue should immediately give away why this is so remarkable . . . Singapore is a small island nation of just a little over 5 million people living on 280 square miles.  In other words, air pollution originating in nearby Indonesia, especially from the forest fires and peat fires associated with land clearing for palm oil planations,  will necessarily affect air quality in Singapore.


Southeast Asian Haze 2013 (Wikimedia Commons). Red spots indicate fires.

In order to protect air quality in Singapore, the THPA explicitly purports to regulate sources of pollution OUTSIDE of Singapore.  Under the statute, an offense of the statute would result if an entity causes air pollution affecting Singapore, which could be punished with a fine of up to 100,000 Singaporean dollars per day!  From a legal perspective, statutes that have an explicit extraterritorial reach are quite unusual, though not unheard of.  The US has sought to reach conduct outside of the US in the antitrust context, for example; but it has generally not done so on environmental issues (though US citizens remain subject to the reach of US law even outside of the US).  Anyway, from what I understand, the THPA has given rise to tricky issues in regards to conflict/tension with Indonesia, where much of the fire-related air pollution affecting Singapore originates, and enforcement has not been straight-forward.  In other words, the story on this statute is still playing itself out.

Since I mentioned my road trip to Melakka, I feel obligated to share images of the sites and food places we visited!  It includes an image of “Mamee,” the instant noodle monster . . . he (it? she?) looks surprisingly like Cookie Monster from Sesame Street . . .  mmmh.  We also found lots of durian (my kryptonite), a great Peranakan restaurant serving Laksa (a Malaysian specialty), and a tandoori/naan outdoor restaurant serving Pakistani/Northern Indian cuisine (just the tastiest tandoori I have ever had!).